'The Flow' Blog - Movement is your Medicine
Climbing Conditioning Program 2012: What is Relative Strength?
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Climbing Conditioning Program 2011 - What is Relative Strength?

Column #138, 18th February 2012

Climbing Conditioning by Jack Walton, Functional Health and Performance

What is Relative Strength and why is it essential for Climbers to put it in their Conditioning program? Even though this component of strength will be developed whilst you climb, there are many major reasons why focusing on it off the wall is key to rapid gains in performance.

Phase 5 out of 6 of the Climbing Conditioning Program progresses to the relative strength training routine. The previous 4 phases have built upon each other to get you here effectively and safely focusing on injury prevention, shoulder function, posture, strength endurance, movement patterns, flexibility and much more. Now it is time to work on one of the most important components of climbing.

What is Relative Strength?

There are many different types of strength and all to some degree will be relevant to climbing. However, the most influential for performing well as a climber in my opinion is ‘Relative Strength’.

There is a more detailed discussion in a chapter on the Biomotors of Climbing.

Relative Strength Definition: “The maximum force an athlete can generate per unit of bodyweight and time of force development”

What this means is that it is essential for a climber to be strong relative to their bodyweight. For example you could have two people who had the same absolute levels of strength, but the person with a lower body mass would have the greater relative strength and likely to be more effective as a climber. This signifies a more efficient use of body mass. Absolute strength is still important, but only if it transfers to an integrated strength that is relative to bodyweight. The interesting factor is that there are distinct ways of designing programs that enhance relative strength and completely different programs that would be used to increase absolute strength.

Of course, the act of climbing itself will specifically develop this ability, but your conditioning program that supports your climbing performance will take you to another level. Consider for a moment what conditioning program you carry out at the moment to reduce recovery time, maintain muscular imbalance, prevent injury, allow to train at greater intensities and create relative strength. Do you have one, is it progressive, do you vary it, what exercises do you include, how many times per week do you carry it out, what repetitions, load, intensity do you select? If you do have a strength training program which specific type of strength are your targeting? There are many. The ultimate question is…………..are you training for Relative Strength?

The Training Program

Let’s see if we can answer that question. Do your exercise programs generally include high repetitions with low/medium intensity? If yes, then your program is not going to increase your relative strength. It will probably be doing your endurance some good (which is also important), but your relative strength will not increase and potentially decrease. You will see that in the Exercise Phase for Relative Strength that your repetitions are low, the intensities are high and the rest periods are long. This program will be challenging the necessary energy system and neural ability that produces increased strength per unit of bodyweight.

Safe Implementation

This does not mean that all climbers of all ages and abilities should immediately embark on a relative strength style exercise program. It simply isn’t appropriate for everyone. What is does mean is that, all climbers should have a plan of when and how to increase their relative strength.

Think of it this way. Your performance on the rock will suffer if you have fantastic levels of endurance, but poor relative strength and power. Conversely, it is no good if you are powerful in the first few moves and tire extremely quickly. The accurate answer is that climbers need significant levels of all these attributes and you must know a little about program design to achieve this.

Phase 5 exercises are designed to really target the weak links through strong movements. The program I have put together and teach climbers across the region typically includes single arm and single leg exercises. The tempos are purposefully slow and controlled. This ensures that momentum and stretch-reflex are not compensating for weak points. For example, if you feel that you bounce up out of the bottom of a squat or press up, it is probably an indication of weakness – the body wants to spend as little time as possible in this range.

The transfer of relative strength training to climbing is massive and not least because the controlled speed of movement matches a lot of the pace of movement on the rock. Pavel Tsatsouline (author of The Naked Warrior) suggests that if you had to pick only two exercises to increase strength, they would be the 1-Arm Press Up and the Pistol Squat. The rest of the program is balanced out for movement patterns and climbing demands.

Today’s article gives you a few pointers on how to do this for your relative strength training. For advanced information contact me with any specific training questions you have. Better yet come down to the Durham Climbing Centre Conditioning Workshops.

Climbing Exercise Programs and Training Workshops

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The CHEK Approach to Health - The Breath Reigns Supreme
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The CHEK Approach to Health - The Breath Reigns Supreme

Column #137, 4th February 2012

I have previously written about my experience of the CHEK approach to health for the North East Journal and The Journal of The Bowen Therapy Professional Association. Aimed at therapists this briefly presented the Totem Pole of Survival method as taught by Paul Chek of the CHEK Institute (although all opinions in this article are my own). In this article we will take a deeper look at this method of assessment and application. The challenge here is that when tackling a topic of holistic nature, it probably requires something of a thesis of all different theories and research to really do it justice. So, in the essence of keeping it simple let’s have a look at one specific area. The body’s “Top Priority” in fact: The Breath.

First; A Quick Recap of The Totem Pole of Survival

Developed by Paul Chek, this is a holistic model that enables the identification of the root cause in order to apply effective therapy. The essence of the model is that the body’s main concern is for survival. Without the stress and demand of surviving we would never develop and evolve and simply wouldn’t be here.

In general the body will compensate and make changes to enhance the chances of survival. When something is not quite right, the body will adapt and make a change. For example if we have an infection, the body will create a high temperature and fever, or if we sprain an ankle the body will shift weight and change gait. All in the name of preservation and survival. The totem pole simply applies a layer of theory to this survival instinct. All things are not equal and the bodymind has an innate hierarchy of control systems that it prioritises.

Here’s a look at the Totem Pole, in descending order of priority:






Visceral Organs

Emotions (floating position)


Slave Joints

Respiration and The Breath

There is a wealth of experience and knowledge that different therapists can share about the importance and function of respiration. From biochemical balance and energetics to structure and movement and beyond. Movement therapists Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen and Emilie Conrad give this insight:

“Breath…is internal music, and the body is a resonating chamber for it. To breathe with an aesthetic appreciation for the power of the breath is to be born again each moment to the seeds of possibility within us."

During dissection studies, Gil Hedley shared similar inspiring descriptions about the heart and the diaphragm beating in rhythm creating vibrations and energy throughout the body. But when I refer to the dictionary definition I get a rather deflating “to take in air into the lungs and expel it (inhale and exhale)”. I personally feel there is more to it and given that we do it around 20,000 to 40,000 times a day, I enjoy giving a little more attention and appreciation to this innate and natural ability.

I am acutely aware of the wide ranging expertise and experience of readers to write on the topic of the breath. Read on for my growing and evolving experiences around the subject and how I relate it to this notion of the Totem Pole.

The Breath in terms of Survival

The focus of this article is to establish why, in CHEK Philosophy, might respiration reign supreme at the top of the totem pole of survival? You may have heard the phrase “3 weeks without food, 3 days without water, 3 minutes without oxygen”, which goes a long way to emphasising its importance. If we stop breathing for 3minutes, we die. Granted, if we stop eating due to a mastication (bite) obstruction/dysfunction we die too, but we get a lot longer than three minutes. Therefore, if anything is disrupting respiration it will need to be acted upon quickly to facilitate breathing. The obstruction to optimal breathing and the resulting change that the body makes will be dependant on the situation and cause, but other functions are further down the list of priorities. For example, as poor posture and joint pain is considered a lesser threat to survival than getting oxygen into the body there may be postural alterations to facilitate the breath.

When bodyreading and measuring posture in the clinic I observe a lot of Forward Head Posture. Paul Chek states that this is a common response to a respiratory obstruction and indeed the body will make this compensation within minutes of an impeded airway. The change in head position is merely a way for us to be able to breath more freely. The question is – what is the cause of the obstruction that leads to the Forward Head Posture, as there are mapotential factors including;

Food Allergy

Growth and Development Disorders

Structural issues due to impact and injury

Emotional and Behavioural factors

The body has compensated for our own benefit in order to improve our ability to breathe and increase our chances of survival. This may seem matter-of-fact, but whilst the forward head posture may be causing neck and shoulder pain (for example), this is a necessary trade-off. As a Bowen and Corrective Exercise Therapist at work, the forward head posture may be evident and we may also see structural changes as we view posture and observe movement. With such a change in head position (weighing approximately 14lbs) and the relationship with the centre of gravity and balance, have there been further changes to thoracic curvature and rotation, pelvic shifts and lower limb alignment?

This brings us right back to day 1 of my initial Bowen Therapy and CHEK training, where we discussed how a pain in the ankle may be caused by something further up the line/chain/train. In respect to this article the take-home message is that if there is an obstruction to optimal breathing there will likely be a compensation or change in the control systems below on the Totem Pole. The breath reigns supreme.

Identifying Breathing/Respiratory Dysfunction

Some etiology may appear unrelated to breathing, however continued awareness and perspective of the role it may play is important. Experience across health practitioners will vary so in some cases they may be able to assess and work with the client and other times they may need the skills to identify key factors and then refer out. A simple test that I do with every single patient/client is to observe their breathing pattern.

What is Good Breathing?

To see a natural breathing pattern just watch a baby or infant breathe. Instantly at birth, the baby takes its first breath and you will see the belly naturally rise and fall. We see this because the diaphragm is the primary breathing muscle and it is pulling the air down deep into the body causing an expansion. When we breathe it should feel smooth and relaxed, without undue tension through the chest, neck or abdominals.

Assess for Success

Try This: Lying or sitting comfortably lay one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly. Take a deep breath in and out. Repeat as you take notice of:

Whether it feels deep or shallow?

Which hand moved first and most?

Which muscles and tissues are contributing to the movement?

Where is the tension or restriction?

Did you breathe in through your mouth or nose?

What causes the breath to be compromised?

Consider that a correct breathing pattern leads to around 20,000 breaths per day, whilst shallow breathing leads to 40,000 breaths per day. Inverted Breathing Patterns appear common, but you might be reading this thinking why would I need to be taught how to breathe? Think back to the infant’s natural, effortless breathing pattern. Whilst this is automatic and was not required to be taught to the baby, it seems that as we reach adulthood, there have been several potential factors that may have altered this pattern:



Muscular Imbalances

Spinal Health

Visceral Organ Health


Poor Sleep







Nutrition / Allergy



Exercise Technique



Infant Development

The point is that if you are repeating something, anything detrimental to your health 40,000 times a day, you need to find the cause, make changes and enhance it. Briefly, here are some signs and symptoms that can inform your next clinical decision:

Forward head posture

Breathing Pattern

Mouth breathing at night. Saliva on pillow in the morning.


Bad Breath

TMJ disorders

Neck and Low back pain

Tendency for pronation injuries in ankle


Of course, in theory, if there is no dysfunction then the respiratory control system may not be causing the compensatory changes in the control systems below it. This is all part of the assessment pathway. What is next on the totem pole of survival (Mastication)? As previously mentioned I’m not suggesting we all switch to using it, just to be intrigued and interested as to how it relates to your current assessment practice. Another piece of the puzzle!

If you have any questions on how I implement the CHEK Approach or the Totem Pole model please contact me. You thoughts and feedback would be welcome too. Please see my website for references of this article: www.functionaltrainer.co.uk

Bradley, B. (-). Correct Breathing Patterns. www.ptonthenet.com

Chek, P, (2004). How to Eat, Move and Be Healthy. Chek Institute.

Chek, P. (2004). Posture: The CHEK Approach. The CHEK Report. Issue 3.

Conrad, E. http://www.continuummovement.com/index.html

ECBS (2009). The Bowen Technique Training Manual Volume One. ECBS.

Hedley, G. (2008). Human Dissection Studies Course. Integral Anatomy

Kendall FP, McCreary EK, Provance PG, Rodgers MM, Romani WA. (2005) Muscles Testing and Funcion: With Posture and Pain, 5th Edition. Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins.

O’Reilly, S. (2008). A Matter of Life and Breath. The CHEK Report. Issue 21.

Rolf, I. (1990). Rolfing and Physical Reality. Healing Arts Press.

Sears, J.P. (-). Breathing for Optimal Health in a Modernized World. Part 1 and 2. CHEK Institute.

Your Nutrition Blueprint: Food and Biochemical Individuality
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Your Nutrition Blueprint:  Food and Biochemical Individuality

Column #136, 21st January 2012

Customised Nutrition Blueprint

Your Nutrition Blueprint is a preemptive strike at avoiding the pitfalls whilst making positive changes to your diet and nutrition.  Sideline the fad and extreme approaches to dieting and eat food that you were designed to eat for healthy function and performance.  We all have a blueprint, and today we will discuss more about the biochemical individuality and which foods and nutrients your body need for optimal energy and metabolism?

What is Biochemical Individuality?

We are all individual in every way.  Consequently, it seems logical to suggest that we have individually specific nutritional requirements.  If we ignore this premise, do we run the risk of developing ill health and disease?  Deficiencies and excessive intake of macro and micro nutrients (proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals) can reek havoc with your systems.  And guess what?  The food guide pyramid is probably not the answer…………….

Your biochemistry right now is determined by a combination of factors including your genes, nutrition and environment.  It is not set in stone and locked in one place.  It is dynamic and can change so it is important that you are able to stay in tune with it.

Biochemical Individuality explains why we are different from one another and why people that you know do well on foods that you know that you don’t and vice versa.  It also explains why:

  • Low fat diets cause some people to gain weight
  • Some diets cause fatigue in people and energy in others
  • Some of us are better at detoxifying toxins and chemicals than others
  • Cancer genes respond in different ways to nutrition and environment
  • …..and many more factors

If you are aware of this principle you are better equipped to understand why you may feel and function better when eating food containing large amounts of protein, moderate fat content and small amounts of carbohydrate.  A diet high in carbohydrates for this person could easily down-regulate their metabolism and reduce the energy delivered to the cells of the body.  Any combination of these macronutrients could be the correct ratio, but this is what you need to identify.

What about Vitamins and Minerals?

We know that the whole range of all the vitamins and minerals are extremely important, but it is interesting to note that biochemical individuality states that we all actually require different amounts of these vitamins and minerals.  For example, we don’t all need the same amount of calcium or magnesium.  The exact amount is related to our metabolism and how we actually utilize these micronutrients.

Food Guide Pyramid = One-Size-Fits-All

When are you ever happy with a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach?  Whilst such a method may be appropriate for some people, there are always those for who it is ineffective.  Eating the wrong food can cause dis-ease in the body and create anything from digestive disorders to blood sugar challenges and even movement and inflammation issues.  This is a weakness of any diet out there that does not appreciate that we are biochemically varied beings.  I have written The Nutrition Blueprint to avoid exactly that and provide a person-specific foundation for the food we put in our body.

Identifying your Biochemical Individuality

The most powerful step to take is to be prepared for change, real change.  It is of no benefit to embark on an extreme or radical diet that will likely be causing under-lying damage and stress to organs and tissues in your body.  Start by sidelining your preconceptions of what is considered classically healthy (often dictated by multi-nationals) and begin to raise your body awareness and perception of how you feel during and after you eat.  How does the body respond?  If you feel lethargic, sluggish, bloated, aggressive, depressed, then that food may not be for you.  What sustains your energy and leaves you satiated, able to concentrate increasing your productivity and makes you happy and emotionally stable?

Even as a practitioner I have to put preconceptions and theories to one side and learn from the body itself.  When reading client’s food diaries I frequently see that the food that is being eaten is not contributing to the positive outcomes above.  The simple fact is that food is and can be our medicine.  It should give us energy and help us heal and grow.

Customising your Foods

The assessment tools that we use are Metabolic Typing and BioSignature Modulation.  There are many other assessment methods and Laboratory methods that can be used in addition, but Metabolic Typing and BioSignature are fundamental to the program, especially in the first 12 weeks of changing your nutrition and lifestyle.  You can go to the nth degree to find out more about your biochemical and metabolic individuality, from looking at your hormonal balance, adrenals, thyroid, digestive health, toxicity levels and immune function.  This is all great information, but you can benefit from building a foundation first and you can read about this o the website and in the previous “Finding your Nutrition Blueprint” article.

If you feel that you want to find out what food your body wants for energy and vitality and you would benefit from following a program and take advantage of some coaching support, check out the Nutrition Blueprint Program here:  www.functionaltrainer.co.uk/Blueprint

The Nutrition Blueprint Program has been developed to include:

12 weeks of step-by-step advice

One-to-One support

Coaching Manual

Assessment of your Unique Nutritional requirements

If you feel that you want to find out what food your body wants for energy and vitality and you would benefit from following a program and take advantage of some coaching support, check out the Nutrition Blueprint Program.

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Finding your Nutritional Blueprint
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Finding your Nutritional Blueprint

Column #135, 24th December 2011

When talking about healthy eating and nutrition in the New Year, it has almost become a cliché to warn against fad diets and dangerous quick-fix detox-ing.  The fact that public awareness of avoiding these unhealthy approaches and the abandoning of dubious products is growing, is great.  Yet, each year, come March/April time, why am I inundated by questions from people looking for answers about effective nutrition and lifestyle programs that are sustainable, safe and successful?

Nutrition Blueprint

Customised Nutrition BlueprintIn an ideal situation these people would have asked me the question 3 months previous to spending a great deal of time, money and effort on a program that didn’t work and wasn’t working with them as an individual.  Today’s article is a preemptive strike at avoiding this eventuality.  A key step in the process is to customize the diet to the individual and finding out how to do this is essential for success.  The aim is to find your body’s blueprint for nutrition.  We all have a blueprint, it’s just a case of tapping into it.  What foods and nutrients does your body need for optimal energy, growth and function?  The answer is different for everyone, but once you discover your blueprint you’ll know it.

This year I have decided to make it easier for people to start off on the right foot.  I have designed a program that coaches you through all the principles that you need to make a positive, effective and sustainable changes to your nutrition and lifestyle to achieve your goals in a healthy way.  The Nutrition Blueprint Program has been developed to include:

  • 12 weeks of step-by-step advice
  • One-to-One support
  • Home Program/Self-Coaching Manual
  • Assessment of your Unique Nutritional requirements

Customising your Foods

How do we find out your individual nutritional requirements?  The assessment tools that we use are Metabolic Typing and BioSignature Modulation.  There are many other assessment methods and Laboratory methods that can be used in addition, but Metabolic Typing and BioSignature are fundamental to the program, especially in the first 12 weeks of changing your nutrition and lifestyle.  You can go to the nth degree to find out more about your biochemical and metabolic individuality, from looking at your hormonal balance, digestive health, toxicity levels and immune function.  This is all great information, but you can benefit from building a foundation first.

Fundamentals of Nutrition

Together with the specific foods that you need for your health and metabolism to thrive, there are of course fundamental steps that we can all take that will benefit our goals.  So as well as your own particular guidelines you will also be coached the essential nutrition and lifestyle factors that add to the truly holistic nature of the program.

The way the program works is not to just list for example, fifty changes for you to make in week 1 and leave you to it.  They might be fifty brilliant ideas, but they will certainly be ineffective if you try to do everything at once.  The program is actually designed to coach you in a logical order, one step at a time and once you have successfully implemented the step, it is time to move on to the next.  This will answer questions such as which inflammatory foods to avoid, when and whether to use supplements, fine tuning your fats, proteins and carbohydrates and much more.

Does Sustainable mean Slow Results?

It is a common misconception that when we want results, we go about it hammer-and-tongs and all-guns-blazing.  The simple answer when it comes to health, is that this is rarely effective at achieving our goals.  However, this does not mean that you cannot see results quickly.  If you have been following a program that does not deliver your results then it is likely that the program needs changing.  Likewise, if you follow a program that initially delivers impressive results and then begins to fail and move into reverse, you need to tweak your program.  In both these scenarios something is not quite right.

The fact is that if we approach health with the whole body in mind and design a quality nutrition and lifestyle program based on individual assessment techniques, then we can achieve impressive results.  Everybody’s situation is different and there are many factors that determine what steps to take.  In addition, you must be ready to take control of your own health and take responsibility for the actions you take and the results you get.  I always work in an integrative manner, which includes the recommendation to always work alongside your General Health Practitioner when you are making changes to your lifestyle and nutrition and to be aware that the advice given in this program is not to replace medical advice.

If you feel that you want to find out what food your body wants for energy and vitality and you would benefit from following a program and take advantage of some coaching support, check out the Nutrition Blueprint Program:

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Climbing Conditioning Program 2011: When to Train Strength Endurance
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Climbing Conditioning Program 2011 - When to Train Strength Endurance

Column #134, 10th December 2011

I was recently reading a climbing forum page where the discussion was on the topic of training tips.  As with most forums, opinion was widespread and what worked for one was ineffective for another……though no arguments had broken out at the time of writing.  I am a firm believer of finding what works for you and applying it.  This is an individual approach and as you will see there are many ways to achieve your climbing conditioning goals, whether that is increasing strength endurance, relative strength, power or other.

Do Climbers need Strength Endurance?

Being strong in movement is one thing, being able to repeat that strong movement repeatedly is another.  As a climber and/or boulderer you require strength endurance to repeatedly move your body typically upwards and across through a repeated set of moves.  It is no advantage to you to be strong and with good form at the beginning of a route, if half way up you fatigue and climb with unnecessarily bad technique.  Strength endurance training should be during a conversion phase that ‘converts’ your movement, relative strength or aerobic endurance into a more climbing-specific’ strength endurance.

What is Periodisation?

As a strength and conditioning coach I enjoy getting together with climbers and other athletes and planning out their training routine.  It’s all about problem solving.  There are many factors involved in getting it right and knowing which elements to train and when is a big part of this puzzle.

Periodisation is the planning, dividing, blending and scheduling of your training programs.  It can involve the long, medium and short term timeframe and essentially puts forward a best case scenario in which to strive to stick to.  The most effective periodisation takes into account all the:

  • practical aspects,
  • individual concerns,
  • goals,
  • competitions,
  • recovery
  • fitness components
  • pre, in, post and off-seasons
  • motivation and compliance
  • flexibility and contingencies

Simply sitting down by yourself and working through these factors can have a significant impact on your success, whilst getting in-depth feedback from a specialist can add even more value.  The mistake is to completely disregard it.  If you do, then the inevitable barrier, hiccup, injury, inconvenience or disruption will do its best to stutter your progress.

How and When to Train Strength Endurance

This will completely depend on the individual, but in the Six-Month Climbing Conditioning Program, Strength Endurance makes its first appearance in Phase 3.  An indepth reasoning for this is discussed at the workshops but the science behind this is based on what factors need to come first.  Imagine your typical strength endurance training session and it may be a circuit-style set-up with various upper, lower and whole-body exercises performed with a high number of repetitions with low-medium loads/intensities.  If you like, this could be the approach to your climbing session, where intensities are low, volume is high and rest is minimised.

These approaches are perfectly effective at training strength endurance, but consider what needs to be in place before we challenge the body in this way?  Not just to make sure we avoid injury, but also to provide a platform for this training to give you the most impressive results?  After all, why would you put this level of effort into something that was disproportionate to the results you got back?

The answer to this question is in Phase 1 and 2.  You may have read the previous articles that describe how these specially designed programs are focused on different outcomes:

  1. Correcting Imbalances in the body such as posture, core function and muscle balance
  2. Creating a Foundation on which to build
  3. Enhancing Movement Patterns

In just two phases your body has improved alignment, structural balance, strengthened weaknesses, lengthened tightness, higher energy levels and greater movement efficiency.  This begs the question, why would you subject the body to a circuit of hundreds of repetitions with various loads and positions, before the body was in balance?  Of course this is an individual choice, but it is my opinion that greater success will come from correcting those imbalances and providing a foundation first and then throwing in the necessary challenges.  Try it and see.

Effective Strength and Conditioning

If I were to refer back to that vibrant climbing forum for answers I would remain a little confused.  Everybody’s opinion was valid because that is what worked for them.  Some felt that some strength training off the rock and away from the wall was important to improve performance and reduce the risk of injury, whereas others believed that this was a waste of time that could be better spent on the rock.

What are my thoughts?  Well, they are somewhere between the both, but they are about getting the best of both, not just a mediocre compromise in the middle.  What seemed to be missed was that the conditioning side of climbing should be all about doing things that complement your climbing.  Things that actually have a positive impact on your climbing performance.  I agree that spending valuable time on training programs that do not advance you on your way to reaching your potential levels of performance, are simply a waste of time.  However, the issue here is that the training programs in question must be poorly designed and executed.  Time to rethink your conditioning programs.

There is no doubt that the best way to improve climbing ability is to climb, climb and climb some more.  However, for numerous reasons, well-designed and executed strength and conditioning programs can be the difference between reaching and falling short of your potential.  The key is to perform high quality conditioning programs that are designed to:

  • Increase your strength, endurance and power
  • Keep you injury free
  • Prevent you from hitting a plateau
  • Correct imbalances brought on by your sport
  • Enable you to recover quicker
  • Enable you to climb more often
  • Enable you to climb at greater intensities and still not get injured and yet recover quickly.

Strength and Conditioning Programs designed with the individual in mind can do all of this.  Do not think of it as time spent on something else that eats into your time on the rock/wall.  See it as a way of actually getting more frequent climbing done, with better results and greater longevity.

If your training program is not providing you with this………why are you doing it?  It is quite simply a poor training program.  You need more return on your investment of time and effort, so find a way to enhance the quality of your program.  Today’s article gives you a few pointers on how to do this for your strength endurance training, otherwise contact me with any specific training questions you have.  Better yet come down to the Durham Climbing Centre Conditioning Workshops.

Climbing Exercise Programs and Training Workshops

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The CHEK Practitioner in the Clinical Setting
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The CHEK Practitioner in the Clinical Setting

Column #133, 26th November 2011

“Knowledge is not power, applied knowledge is.” Paul Chek, Holistic Health Practitioner.  Internationally-renowned clinician Paul Chek is spreading his expertise to the C.H.E.K Practitioners of the world, creating knowledgeable and competent trainers.

As an Exercise and Strength Coach I am passionate about the professional training and qualifications that I take.  I love to learn from the best in the industry such as Charles Poliquin, Paul Chek, Gary Gray, Gray Cook and Mel Siff to name a few.  I recently qualified as a CHEK Practitioner Level 1, which was another challenging and rewarding experience.

What is a CHEK Practitioner?

C.H.E.K Practitioners are specialists in corrective exercise and high-performance conditioning . They are trained in assessment techniques and have the skills to design individualized exercise programs. There are 4 levels to the training and the higher the level completed, the more practical knowledge and experience they will have, particularly in complex orthopedic conditions.

C.H.E.K Practitioners come from a varied background including fitness professionals, strength and conditioning coaches, chiropractors, physical therapists, bodyworkers, massage therapists, podiatrists, athletic trainers and so on.  The key is that they understand that the human body is a system of many complex inter-related systems that all affect each other. They conduct the most thorough and detailed assessments on all the bodies’ systems before making any recommendations.

C.H.E.K Practitioners are skilled in human biomechanics, orthopaedic rehabilitation, and sports performance.  Their holistic approach involves assessing each person on a physical, mental and emotional level and suggesting referrals to other professionals where necessary to ensure optimal results.

Areas and goals that may benefit from working with CHEK professionals may include:

  • Eliminating back pain
  • Rehabilitation of shoulder, neck and head pain
  • Improve posture
  • Enhancing movement efficiency
  • Improved sports performance
  • Injury prevention and management

Level 1 Specifically

I was personally extremely interested in what Level 1 had to offer.  I wanted to learn more about how we develop movement skills from birth, through infancy, childhood and into adulthood.  Working in a clinical setting the people I see on a daily basis are often suffering from pain, recurring injuries or a dysfunction and limitation in performance.  I was keen to learn more specific assessment techniques to see where the deficits were in their movement patterns and get to the root of what had caused them.  Learning the ability to design specific exercise programs to balance and correct these factors would be the icing on the cake.

On the Level 1 course I learned all this and more.  The Infant Development and Movement Assessments are a fantastic tool and I can recommend further reading of Linda Hartley’s “Wisdom of the Moving Body”.  Here you can find out more about the physical, emotional and mental etiology of movement inefficiency.  The assessments are one thing but actually applying the information is another, as we could assess all day at great interest to myself, but the patient would be no better off.  Mark Buckley (CHEK Faculty) took us to the next level and taught us more about how to restore functional movement, customize programs to any ability and goal and balance the systems in the body that need it.

The Clinical Setting

I like to do courses that are immediately applicable to the real world and that I can use in the gym or the clinic the next day.  The CHEK education is applicable to many areas of health and performance, but for me it is extremely useful for working with someone with dysfunction and pain.  The level of assessment means that imbalances in various systems can be identified and changes in nutrition, lifestyle and movement implemented for successful outcomes.

In my opinion, there is a time and place for different approaches to achieving your health and performance goals.  Sometimes strength training will be appropriate whilst at other times Yoga and Tai Chi.  Boot camps are building in popularity and have done a fantastic job of motivating people to get up, go outside and move.  However, there are many instances where factors such as structural alignment, posture, physiology, muscle balance, adrenal function and movement deficiencies need to be addressed before we load and challenge the body in certain ways and intensities.  It’s all about the right exercise, in the right way for the right person.

If you have any more questions about conditioning for health and performance or about working with a CHEK Practitioner just give me a call or email.

Climbing Conditioning Program 2011: Climber's Posture Correction
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Climbing Conditioning Program 2011 - Climber's Posture Correction

Column #132, 12th November 2011

“If we can optimise posture it will enhance our health.

If we can optimise our health it will enhance our posture”

Here is an excerpt from the Climbing Conditioning Program.  Read on if you are wondering whether posture is important and why it should be focused on in your Corrective Exercise Program.  A fascinating subject because it isn’t just about standing up straight and there are many surprising factors that influence our posture. In turn our posture and movements have a major influence on many other functions than your climbing performance, from digestion to joint pain.

Some Influential Factors on Posture

  • Occupation
  • Injury and Pain
  • Muscular Imbalances
  • Breath
  • Poor Sleep
  • Mental-Emotional
  • Sport
  • Nutrition
  • Exercise Technique
  • Fascia
  • Stress
  • And many more discussed in the complete eBook Program

Wow, that’s a lot of stuff and that’s because we are holistic in nature.  All our systems are integrated and we cannot separate body from mind.  The great part of this is that an appreciation of these factors and postural conditioning can create many positive health benefits.

What is Good Posture?

Posture can be described as static and dynamic.  Generally, this means standing or sitting in one position, but also in and out of positions, otherwise known as movement.  Our ability to maintain ideal joint alignment in various positions is essential for well-being.  No, this doesn’t mean we are to move like robots, it is about us being present and functional in our world.

Simply put, with good standing posture our body is stacked upright correctly.  In this position our muscle lengths and strengths are balanced and our joints are in the correct position for mechanical function.

Think of a tent pole that needs strong, balanced guy ropes to maintain an upright position.  If one guy rope is too tight and the opposite, too long, the pole will move out of position.  Consider that this happens to your spine when some muscles are too tight, long or weak.  In a compromised position the spine may be injured and the whole muscular-fascial-skeletal system will not be able to function as efficiently as possible.

Behind the Assessment

If we do not assess our posture before we embark on a training program then we are likely to exacerbate any existing imbalances and problems.  Many of our occupations involve a flexed position (sitting at a desk).  Climbing itself significantly challenges the anterior abdominals and a flexed holding position.  Purely from observing climbers that I have worked with, there is a common occurrence of an overly flexed thoracic spine (increased kyphosis).  When accompanied by a program that has too much focus on flexion (crunches) and not enough postural and muscular balancing, then we will probably only further encourage this postural distortion.  This can take us further away from neutral spine and typically lead to lower back, neck and shoulder problems.

Furthermore, identifying postural issues in one area of the body (for example at the pelvis) can cause pain or dysfunction somewhere else in the body (for example the knees and ankles).

Try this: Stand up and feel where the weight is through your feet.  Tilt your pelvis forward and feel the weight fall onto the inside and your ankles turn in.  Tilt your pelvis back (flatten back), and feel the weight on the outside of your feet.  This illustrates the influence of the pelvis on your posture.  If it naturally sits toward one of these ends of the extremes then it may cause faulty alignment in the spine, shoulder girdle, hip, knee, ankle foot……pretty much anywhere.

Why does posture get out of line?

There are many answers, but in addition to the demands of climbing, a key area to focus on is our daily actions and activities.  Do we have an occupation in which we have a repetitive movement, is there heavy lifting involved, do we play a one-side dominant sport?  A classic example is a checkout assistant, who may repetitively move a weight (groceries) from their left to right all day.  This twisting motion may cause a muscular imbalance and the person is left with a twisted posture as they are being pulled out of line.

Further causes of poor posture can be from any of the influences listed above.  For example, healed tissue following an injury may have more tension and create postural changes.  Scar tissue is not quite as good at the job as the tissue that was there previous to the injury. Pain can bring about compensatory patterns that change structure and movement patterns.  Jaw alignment (TMJ) can lead to postural shifts in other areas of the body.  To suggest just a few.

Enhancing Posture

There are many approaches to enhancing posture and many therapies that contribute.  During the workshops at Durham Climbing Centre and in the Climbing Conditioning Program eBook, I have mapped out all the exercises and techniques for enhancing your posture. These are the general steps we are looking to implement:

  1. Lengthen tight muscles to improve muscle balance
  2. Strengthen weak muscles to improve muscle balance
  3. Create a functional and activated core
  4. Increase endurance of postural muscles
  5. Re-learn functional movement patterns
  6. Train strong movements for daily/sporting requirements

Phase 1 is a great time to make as much progress on your posture as possible, but it really is an ongoing element of your conditioning and depends on your individual postural requirements.  Thank you for reading this excerpt of the book.

Attend Phase 2 Workshop, on November 16th 2011

Durham Climbing Centre hosts the Climbing Conditioning Workshops, with the attendees ready for Phase 2 on Wednesday 16th November, 2011.  To follow the program in full, watch this space for more articles, follow the facebook page, purchase the Program in the full eBook and hopefully I’ll see you at the Climbing Centre.

Climbing Exercise Programs and Training Workshops

Facebook Page - Climbing Conditioning


New Metabolic Typing Video
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7 Steps to get the most out of the Program

Climbing Conditioning Program 2011: Phase 1 and 2 Insight
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Climbing Conditioning Program 2011 - Phase 1 and 2 Insight

Column #131, 29th October 2011

Climbing Conditioning is all about putting something in place that enables you to climb more, recover quicker, prevent injury and get great results.  The Climbing Conditioning Program is written to try to encompass all the elements that go towards achieving this.  Currently, at Durham Climbing Centre, the conditioning workshops have just started – so here’s some input on Phase 1 and 2.

The Benefits of Following a Conditioning Program?

Follow a program that supports all your climbing coaching, training and technique work

Six Exercise and Strength Programs progressively designed for you.

Attend the six practical workshops at Durham Climbing Centre.

A comprehensive Six-Month program to follow week-by-week

Find out how to prevent and manage injuries.

Learn easy and effective recovery strategies.

Customised Nutrition for your individual requirements.

Phase 1:  Create a Foundation and Correct Imbalances

In the first sixty pages of the program book I discuss the principles behind why in Phase 1 it is essential to put steps in place to create a foundation.  Critically, this is the solid foundation on which you will build your climbing performance.  This is not just a convenient metaphor – it is true for all sports and even activities in daily life.  Put simply, our sport in which we want to excel may be climbing, football, surfing or rugby for example, yet there is one thing that is common to all of these sports.  Us.  We are all human beings, with pretty much the same physical structure, anatomy, mechanics, biochemistry and function.

A Solid Foundation

An obvious statement I know, but an extremely common mistake many climbers make is that they get sports specific way before they have mastered the fundamental elements of function. Here are 2 major Problems that can occur due to neglecting your foundation:

  1. Lowering your ceiling of potential:  This means that you can improve your sports specific performance, but you have capped it artificially low from the beginning.  Spending time on your foundation at the beginning raises the ceiling of potential.
  2. Injury: Imposing the extremely challenging and specific physical and mental factors on your body and mind requires an underpinning function that prevents injury.  Your training should be finely balanced to get the most out of your climbing performance, whilst ensuring you don’t get injured (or at least limiting the occurrence).

Correcting Imbalances

A body with optimal balance leads to optimal function.  This refers to structural and physiological balance as opposed to the balance required to stand on one leg for example.  Imbalances involve such things as tight muscles, weak muscles, postural distortion, injury, pain, low energy levels, dehydration, stress, limited movement patterns and many other factors that bring the body out of balance and optimal function.

Here are some of the elements of function that underpin the Phase 1 objectives of creating a foundation and correcting balance:

  • Posture
  • Flexibility
  • Core Function
  • Movement Patterns
  • Pain and Injury Free
  • Hydration
  • Correct Breathing Patterns
  • Sleep and Circadian Rhythm
  • Optimal Hormonal, Immune, Digestion and Detoxification health.

What is included in the Phase 1 Program to get these results?

  • An Understanding of the Demands of Climbing and Bouldering
  • Assessments
  • A Corrective Exercise Program
  • Lengthen the Tight Muscles
  • Strengthen the Weak Muscles
  • Core Conditioning
  • An Integrative Performance Model based on holistic principles (including nutrition, hydration, sleep and repair, mental emotional link and much more)

Phase 2:  Enhance Movement and Become Injury Proof

Depending on individual requirements, Phase 1 may require a lot or a little focus.  Once balance and function has been enhanced, you are ready for Phase 2.  There is a workshop on Wednesday 16th November at Durham Climbing Centre to be coached the full Phase 2 Strength and Exercise Program.

The objectives of Phase 2 are:

  1. Enhance Movement Patterns
  2. Learn how to Prevent Injury
  3. Learn about Sleep, Repair and Recovery Strategies.

Alongside your climbing and indoor wall training, this phase will ensure that you improve the movement patterns that you designed to perform as a human being, together with an appreciation of how this affects climbing performance.  We must be strong and effective in these movement patterns:

  • Push
  • Pull
  • Squat
  • Lunge
  • Bend
  • Twist
  • Gait / Walking

This Phase also introduces the shoulder girdle injury prevention exercises.  It is a great idea for a climber to have a selection of shoulder exercises that can be progressed and changed as appropriate.  Complementing these with Thoracic Mobility exercises leads to better results as rotator cuff injury is often related to thoracic posture as opposed to shoulder function.

Please visit the website www.functionaltrainer.co.uk or email me if you would like any more information on implementing Phase 1 and 2 into your program

Attend Phase 2 Workshop, on November 16th 2011

Durham Climbing Centre hosts the Climbing Conditioning Workshops that start on Wednesday 16th November, 2011.  To follow the program in full, watch this space for more articles, follow the facebook page, purchase the Program in the full eBook and hopefully I’ll see you at the Climbing Centre.

Climbing Exercise Programs and Training Workshops

Facebook Page - Climbing Conditioning


The Right and Left Brain
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The Right and Left Brain

Watch this video where renowned psychiatrist and writer Iain McGilchrist explains how our 'divided brain' has profoundly altered human behaviour, culture and society.

BackCare Awareness Week
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BackCare Awareness Week

Column #130, 15th October 2011

This week is BackCare Awareness Week (October 17th-23rd 2011).  The focus this year is on School Children and their teachers.  88% of school teachers are experiencing back pain around once a week and it is thought that overweight school bags and poorly-designed chairs are causing future problems for young backs.  What are the causes, treatments and prevention for back pain?

A Holistic Approach to Back Care

Today we will broaden our scope and take a holistic approach to back pain.  We will go beyond the standard approach of just looking at various exercises and get down to other potential root causes and open out our ideas for a successful solution.

Back Pain Prevalence

Around 70% of the population suffer from low back pain in their lifetime and is the second most common (next to the common cold) reason for visits to the Doctor.  A Survey by www.backcare.org.uk discovered that 88% of primary school teachers experienced back pain, most at least once a week while working at school, and 70% had sought medical treatment.

Their back problems were caused by “bending down to low tables (91%), sitting on children’s chairs (85%), and kneeling at low tables or on the floor (71%).”

Back Pain Rehabilitation

If you are a school teacher and suffer these challenges, what approach did you take to eliminate the pain?  Often the reply will be that therapeutic exercise solved the problem.  Indeed, this is an essential part of the puzzle, but there are many other factors that can get to the root cause and support your recovery.

Individuality of Back Pain

The fact is that there is never a one-size-fits-all remedy for everyone.  Whether you are a teacher, manual labourer, lawyer, or personal trainer, each person has his or her own unique answer to taking the pain away and getting back to full function.  Often the journey back to ‘pain free’ is hindered and regressed by doing whatever seemed to work for someone else, like a particular exercise or applying an ice pack or heat pad.  If you find out the individual cause of your back pain then you will have an individual treatment approach.

Assess for Success

The key to success is to assess.  When you see a specialist who can identify the mechanics of the back pain and then look into further factors, then you are equipped with the knowledge of where to start and what to do about it.  This is motivating and confidence building and has an extremely positive effect on the speed and outcome of your rehabilitation.

Holistic Approach to Chronic Back Pain

Holistic means that we will view things as a whole.  In the case of health and fitness, we will look at the whole individual.  Only when we do this and acknowledge that the human body is a system of systems (musculoskeletal, digestive, respiratory etc) that all affect each other, will we really reach our true potential.  Some health practitioners state that an imbalance in one system will affect the others and any number of symptoms will arise.  If you suffer from chronic back pain here are some influential factors; mechanics of the injury, the respiratory system, jaw (TMJ) and cranial (skull) alignment, vision and hearing, organ health and emotions.

Whilst this is in no way diagnostic and you should always consult your GP first, these are important areas to consider as causes of back pain:

  • The Mechanics of the Injury.  What is going on at the joint, spinal, neural, muscular level?  Do you know whether you are dealing with for example, pain at the sacroiliac joint (very base of spine) or with a disc problem in the lumbar (lower) spine?  Once this is identified you are a long way to deciding the best method of treatment.  If this pain is not acute and has been building up over a long time (chronic), then the whole body must be assessed.  As an example, at Functional Health and Performance when we thoroughly assess, the cause of the problem is often found not at the site of pain.  An old ankle sprain or hamstring strain may well be influencing the function of the back and need conditioning to alleviate the pain.
  • The Respiratory system.  Often underestimated, your breathing pattern will have a major impact on the function of your back/spine.  The diaphragm is deeply attached to the spine and when it is not moving smoothly, stabilizing correctly or there is chronic tension, there will be stress or compensatory movement patterns that can cause dysfunction.  In addition as breathing helps maintain the acid/alkaline balance in the body, its balance is essential to create a healing environment.
  • Jaw (TMJ) and Cranial (skull) alignment.  We bite down (masticate) around 4,000 times per day and this represents a huge amount of faulty recruitment if the jaw is misaligned.   Given that the body regards the head and this joint so important, if there are problems, there will likely be compensatory patterns from below the head down.  Hence if the spine or pelvis tilts, rotates, bends in an attempt to help the above problem then we may suffer pain somewhere below.  This pain however, is considered a best-case scenario until the jaw alignment is restored.
  • Vision and Hearing.  As greatly utilised sense systems, it has been observed that certain dysfunctions in hearing and eyesight can affect the posture and alignment of the body.
  • Our Organ health, such as our digestive system, liver and bladder, will impact on the levels of inflammation and strength of the body, causing pain to joints and tissues in some cases.
  • Emotions can play a significant part in our physical health as well as our mental health.

These are purely examples of how getting to the root cause can alleviate back pain.  Hopefully your pain is quickly and easily sorted, but if you find that it is persistent and chronic and you have been passed from practitioner to practitioner, then consider how taking a holistic approach could be the answer.

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